The Hyperion Cantos

Last night, I fin­ished the final book in Dan Sim­mon’s epic sci­ence fic­tion tetral­o­gy1, the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos. My imme­di­ate reac­tion to the series’ con­clu­sion was that I only want to read it again. They are just that great of a read.

In fact, if any­one who knows me had read these pre­vi­ous­ly and did­n’t rec­om­mend them to me, we are no longer friends. I am sin­cere­ly angry that I did­n’t read these as soon as they were pub­lished (though get­ting to read the whole series back-to-back is at least some com­pen­sa­tion). I spent a por­tion of my col­lege years look­ing for more nov­els like Frank Her­bert’s Dune and, as it turns out, Dan Sim­mons was writ­ing them at that same time.

In spite of my sig­nif­i­cant and legit­i­mate­ly earned geek-cred.2, I have to con­fess a lack of knowl­edge when it comes to some of the high lit­er­a­ture of sci­ence fic­tion. I have done my best and was raised well3, but I had decid­ed that I need­ed to real­ly edu­cate myself on sci­fi and fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture. So, I added any Hugo or Neb­u­la win­ning books to my audio­book wish list at the library. By luck, Hype­r­i­on hap­pened to be one of the first that was imme­di­ate­ly avail­able.

I did­n’t have to get too far into that book to see that it was going to be some­thing spe­cial. Oh, at first, it seemed like a sci­ence fic­tion ver­sion of Chaucer, but I’m pret­ty sure Chaucer did­n’t have a Shrike; a crea­ture describe with such ter­ri­ble details that actu­al­ly found myself look­ing over my shoul­der at night. Some­thing can be said for any book that can ele­vate your heart rate.

And though the Shrike thing is undoubtable why many are attract­ed to the book, it is the sense of mys­tery and promise that some­thing lies deep­er. The read­er quick­ly sens­es that there are lay­ers here; that the sto­ry is unfold­ing in some­thing oth­er than a straight line. In fact, through­out the series, we learn that the events aren’t even sim­ply par­al­lel but tru­ly non­lin­ear.

Sim­mons uses var­i­ous writ­ing styles and lit­er­ary devices, but always with a sense of pur­pose. When it I first feared that Sim­mons was sim­ply exer­cis­ing, it would lat­er see that what­ev­er device was in play served the sto­ry rather than some writer’s need to exper­i­ment. What’s more, there is a real sense of clo­sure at the end that can only come from a writer’s long plan­ning and effort. Though at times, Sim­mons could have left a lit­tle more to the imag­ine of his read­er rather than grab them by the col­lar and shake them, I nev­er felt a sense that he for­got the pre­vi­ous events in this epic.

What’s more &emdash; and this is where I feel that the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos is clos­est to the Dune series &emdash; is that even though this is an epic jour­ney, with events span­ning a mil­len­ni­um and detail­ing the evo­lu­tion of the human race, the sto­ry focus­es on a few key fig­ures and remains a per­son­al sto­ry of their jour­ney. Jour­ney, in the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos, is a word which Sim­mons also embues with every mean­ing pos­si­ble. Again, what feels like some­thing which could have start­ed as a cre­ative writ­ing exer­cise is place in per­fect con­text to serve a greater sto­ry. I must not be alone as this is a series where each book was nom­i­nat­ed for notable lit­er­ary awards, with three of the nov­els win­ning one or more awards. Though this is tru­ly a book that has all of the trap­pings of sci­ence fic­tion, the per­son­al tales are the ele­ments which make it great. I can tell you with no sense of shame that there were moments that brought tears to my eyes.

So, if it is clear: go read these books if you haven’t. I won’t be the kind of friend who does­n’t rec­om­mend them. And, if any of you have any sim­i­lar rec­om­men­da­tions for me, you’d bet­ter make them now before I find them on my own. Else, we’ll be hav­ing words, my (for­mer) friend.

Which reminds, me I need to get back to my library list and see what­ev­er great gems are out there that I have missed, includ­ing some oth­ers by Sim­mons.

  1. Though, it seems that Sim­mons feels these are real­ly two nov­els, bro­ken apart for pub­lish­ing. []
  2. Seri­ous­ly, I throw down with you nerds any time. I was born a nerd and ain’t no John­ny-come-late­ly to this stuff just because skin­ny guys with iPods are cool. []
  3. Some of my very first mem­o­ries are of hob­bits sneak­ing into Mor­dor, as my mom read Tolkien to my broth­er and me. []

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